What Oakland’s Pioneering Peaker Replacement Says About the Storage Market

GTM Squared

There’s an underappreciated market in California, with 4 million customers and counting, that’s constitutionally disposed to buying storage.

by Julian Spector

July 15, 2019

Sometimes the greatest clean energy innovations happen in your own backyard.

That’s a wishful statement for most people in this country, but I live in Oakland, California, so it comes true with delightful regularity. Thus, I commuted 10 minutes on a recent Monday morning to see the unveiling of an energy storage project that the industry would do well to emulate elsewhere.

The Oakland Clean Energy Initiative hits several grid edge high notes.

It’s shutting down an urban peaker that burns jet fuel next to bustling residential and commercial areas, replacing it with a battery peaker. It’s also a non-wires alternative, offsetting a much more expensive and invasive wire-based upgrade. Lastly, it’s a proof of concept that California’s local power purchasers, known as community-choice aggregators (CCAs), could offer considerably more upside for storage deployment than previously thought.

Here are the key lessons from this new project structure that could translate beyond the shores of Oakland’s Jack London Square.

CCAs will drive significant storage development

For better or worse, California structured its energy storage rollout so that large projects flow through utility procurement. The state gave each investor-owned utility a target, and they had to meet it. But CCAs are breaking open a new market that does not depend on the lengthy cycle of utility procurement.

Case in point, East Bay Community Energy, which covers Oakland and the rest of Alameda County, across the bay from San Francisco, just launched last fall. Besides the 20-megawatt/80-megawatt-hour system slated for downtown Oakland, it contracted with EDP Renewables North America for a 100-megawatt solar plant in the Central Valley paired with 30 megawatts/120 megawatt-hours of storage.

Before its one-year anniversary, the group signed contracts that exceeded its obligation under the state energy storage mandate by a factor of four or five, CEO Nick Chaset told me.

That’s a striking departure from the status quo approach of procuring to meet a target. East Bay Community Energy is not alone in this storage enthusiasm.

Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Monterey Bay Community Power signed a joint deal with Recurrent Energy in October for a 150-megawatt solar plant combined with a battery system rated at 45 megawatts/180 megawatt-hours. They also signed a deal with EDF Renewables North America for 128 megawatts of solar capacity coupled with a 40-megawatt/160-megawatt-hour battery plant.

“CCAs represent a non-trivial opportunity for solar and storage developers doing business in California,” said Ravi Manghani, energy storage director at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

The upside could be considerably better than “non-trivial,” as the addressable market of CCA customers has grown astonishingly vast in the last few years. Industry group CalCCA counts 19 different CCAs covering almost the entire coastal territory of California. They serve a combined 4,073,600 customer accounts, and many more counties are mulling whether to go the CCA route.

In just a few years, CCAs have pulled retail customers away from utilities across a vast swath of California.

The CCAs’ charters include varying degrees of commitment to locally sited and clean energy investments. Both goals lend themselves to storage when it comes time to ensure dispatchable capacity; nobody is eager to build new fossil-fuel-burning resources in their neighborhood.

“CCAs, just based on the philosophy of their existence, are likely to go beyond state mandates,” said WoodMac’s Manghani. “By definition, they have to be progressive.”

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